It was everything I had hoped it to be, and more. I had never been with such a dynamic group- the youngest of us was 15, the oldest 41- yet not for a second did it feel “weird” or awkward. It was so obvious that God had called each of us there; trying to imagine the group with any one of us missing was impossible. The disciples from Nairobi made us feel like family almost immediately. Any “culture shock” was absorbed by their warmth and love- we were all Kenyans. This was even more visible at church service on Sunday. I was even more in awe that no matter what nation, culture, language, or generation we were all apart of, we all worshipped the same Jesus. And he made himself so visible throughout the trip.
I could go on for pages describing where we went, what we did, who we met, what it felt like, and how much I miss it all, but I’ll do my best to keep it succinct. My favorite thing about Jesus is how he spent so much time loving individuals, and my favorite part of any trip is the experiences I have with individual people, so that’s what I’ll talk about. On this trip, two women stole my heart. First, there was Joyce. A fierce and beautiful woman, Joyce lives in Makindu where we built houses out of mud and rock. As soon as we stepped off the bus, she wanted “pi-tures with Muzungu” (Muzungu being a white person, aka me). She was so confident, so fun, so strong, it was easy to see why she was the leader of the village. She started off our time with a prayer that I couldn’t understand, but the passion and devotion in her voice was impossible to miss. As we worked, she and the other women made us tea, stew, and chapatti (my mouth is watering just thinking about it) and kept us entertained. Actually, I should say we kept them entertained. A bunch of Muzungus coated in dust trying to learn how to make mud to build a goat house is quite a sight. But we felt their love for us, and we felt so much love for them. A few days later, when it was time to leave for Nairobi, Joyce was the one I knew I would miss the most. The HYC shared our experiences, and the village women shared how we had impacted them. Joyce, of course, was the first to share. Once she finished, she grabbed me by the arm, pulled me to her seat, and told me she wanted to give me something. She searched through her purse, trying to find something to give me, and handed me a blue papermate pen. A pen has never meant so much to me in my life, and it was a moment I will never forget. I hastily removed my necklace and put it around her neck, trying (and failing) to give her something that could match her gift. But Joyce wasn’t done. She grabbed me, wrapped her scarf around me, and made us take a picture (she’s a big fan of pictures). Afterwards, she looked at me and asked, “Do you know what this means? It means I am adopting you. You are my daughter now.” She then gave me her scarf. I brought it home with me, and I refuse to wash it. It smells like Kenya; it smells like Joyce. She gave me so much in the so short time that I was with her.
The second woman isn’t actually a woman- it’s a girl. Sharon, a 5 year old, who has been battling retinoblastoma for 2 years. When I met her, she had lost her right eye to cancer. Unlike the other children in the eye ward at Kenyatta Hospital, she did not have a fake replacement eye, but rather an empty lid. And she is the most beautiful girl in the whole world. On Day 1, she was reserved, shy, and definitely did not want to play with me; in fact, she could barely look at me. Her mother spoke broken English and told me that she wasn’t eating very much. Since there were few other kids in the ward at the time, and not many others spoke English, I decided to stick with Sharon and see if I could get a smile out of her. After much tickling, food “airplanes,” and silly faces, Sharon was giggling and eating and sassing me in Swahili. However, as soon as we joined up with the other children and started group songs of “Father Abraham” and “Baby Shark,” she shut down again. But we still had a few days left to bring her out of her shell, so on Day 2, I bee-lined for her again. It took a few moments for her to recognize me, but as soon as she did we were back to tickling and giggling. Her joy didn’t fade even when we joined up with the group. She ran around, threw a ball over and over again, sang all the group songs, played with the other kids, and tickled me while I screamed and ran away. I felt like a proud older sister watching her grow confident. But Day 3 brought our time at the hospital to an end. We gave everything we had left on that last day, and when it was time to leave, I could hardly look at Sharon without my heart aching. Every time I said goodbye and tried to walk away, she would come chasing after me, only to run away giggling again, trying to keep our game going. Eventually, though, I gave her one last hug and left. I knew she was leaving the hospital as cancer-free a few days later, which made me happy, but I also knew I would probably never see her again, which made me sad. She has a hard life ahead of her- weird looks, whispers behind her back, questions about her missing eye- and I doubt she’ll even remember me in a few years. But what I love about Youth Corps, or any form of service, it’s not really about whether my actions will be remembered. It’s about how I made people feel in the short time I was with them. I hope, I pray, that Sharon will remember how breathtakingly beautiful she is to me. I hope I made her feel confident in who she is, and that she keeps her sassy nature as she grows into a woman.
I can’t describe in enough detail everything that happened in my two weeks in Kenya, but my time there was beautiful and special and meaningful in every moment. I miss the place, the people, and the experience so dearly, and I will count down the days until I can see my beloved Kenya again.
The team at Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital recently celebrated its 5 year anniversary. SKMH opened in April 2012 with the mission to meet the needs of poor children and women of Southern Cambodia. It is managed by HOPE worldwide . Since its opening, nearly 50,000 patients have been touched by the team. On May 26, the hospital honored 31 employees who have served since the hospital’s opening day. Through the dedication of its staff and supporters, SKMH has seen tremendous growth. Since its opening, the hospital has accomplished the following:
· More than 140,000 patient consultations with nearly 50,000 new patients
· 71% of visits have been for women and children
· Nearly 800 children have been born at the hospital since the opening of the Maternity building in November 2014
· 7 Cambodian doctors have graduated from three year hospital training program.
· Currently employs over 180 people
· The Neo Natal Intensive care unit opened November 2015. To date the NICU has served 49 children
· Centralized Medical Gas System for NICU and campus opened in November 2016.
· Surgical department opened in 2015
· Surgical team has performed over 360 surgeries in 2016, not including C-Sections. 86 surgeries have been for children
· Blood bank opened in August 2016
· A Learning Center for children of hospital staff opened on June 12
Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital has been blessed with international support from medical and administrative partners as well as volunteers from around the world to serve and teach. The local Cambodian staff continues to grow and serves as the primary patient care providers.
The team is grateful for all the support that has been given this past five years; however, there remains more to do. Future development includes the addition of a CT scan, upgraded X-ray diagnostic equipment, continued development of staff training programming and pursuit of international accreditations. Please consider how you can make a difference at the Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital. Go to https://www.hopeww.org/donate . Use the drop down box and select Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital. If you wish to learn more about the Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital, please visit www.skmh.org .
Dr. Rin Receiving the Empathy Amplified AwardClick here to watch .
Jenny Harkabus spent Christmas serving in the Philippines. She wrote this, and also made a short video:
I did not imagine that I would be spending Christmas in the Philippines for my first HOPE Youth Corps experience. This opportunity has deeply changed my perspective on the importance of service in my daily walk.
We are created in God's image, therefore we are meant to help and serve others. I know this to be true because I have never felt so used by God and fulfilled, than the times spent serving and pouring out my love in the Philippines.
James 1:27 says, " Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." Some translations refer to this as true religion. The bible also stresses the importance of giving to the poor (1 John 3:17, Matt 9:21, Proverbs 14:31). God considers caring for the poor and orphans as true religion, yet this can be an area of faith that is overlooked.
I was privileged to spend time with girls who have experienced trauma and abuse at the HOPE worldwide center in Laguna. Many of these girls have been separated from their families, becoming orphans, as a result of the abuse they have experienced. I also received the opportunity to play with children within the community as we rebuilt their homes and provided them with medical care. I witnessed the children’s precious value for human relationships, as they clung to me emotionally and physically. They showed me instant love and respect, which I find to be rare in today’s society. Our focus should be about investing in others just as the children in the Philippines invested in me.